The episode “I have Schizophrenia” follows the lives of three young adults as they strive to cope with this debilitating brain disease. The narrator describes schizophrenia as the difficulty in being able differentiate and draw clear lines between reality and what is in a person’s head.
The first person is Josh, aged 25, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He believes that animals talk to him and he hears voices that he considers friends as they keep him company in his isolated life. He has been in and out of hospital numerous times but refuses psychiatric medication. He expresses a chaos narrative, as he seems to have no structure in his life and refuses to acknowledge a need for medical professional assistance. He gets evicted from his hotel and moves in with his mother but eventually problems cause his mother to threaten to get a crisis center to write a 302, which is an order for involuntary commitment to a mental institution. He moves out and but returns shortly. His mother is frustrated but complacent about his return as she worries that he will be on the streets or killed. Eventually, Josh is able to move into his own apartment with the help of an aid group but currently still refuses professional help. His narrative use is to smoke marijuana as an alternative to counseling, therapy or psychiatric help.
The second person is Ben, aged 23, whose diagnosis is schizo-effective disorder. He takes over 15 pills per day to treat his delusions that people are talking to him or trying to hurt him. He first had problems at 18, when he heard a voice named Marcus telling him to kill himself., which led to him being hospitalized and heavily medicated. His narrative is quest as he states “I want to get to a point where this no longer affects my life” suggesting he has a goal in mind. He uses the narrative of using his family as a support network, as well as going to group and individual talk therapy. The stressors of having both his father and grandfather develop cancer causes a setback when he suffers from depression from stress but he eventually gets back on his feet and after therapy to reintroduce himself into mainstream society, he finally has started going to college for a computer programming class with hopes of eventually becoming a full time student.
The third person is Amber who is 19 years old and a former straight A student until her paranoid-type schizophrenia caused her to have to drop out of freshman year. She returns to college to start classes but quickly ends up having to drop a class due to her illness. Her narrative, like Ben, is a quest to not let the difficulty of her illness prevent her from the opportunity of an education. She gives an inspiring statement by saying “maybe this new normal can be better than the old normal and I can do what I want”. She uses the narrative of group therapy and even gives a speech to the community for a program called “In their voices”. She also seems very close to her supportive mother, which is another use of narrative. Amber uses medical professionals such as a psychiatrist to support her endeavors through counseling and medication. Despite the hiccup of having to drop a class initially, Amber is taking a full load now with four classes and maintaining a very respectable B grade average. She hopes to continue her studies and eventually pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology.
All three cases are from America and so the cultural stigma attached to mental disorders is perhaps not as strong or prevalent as in other cultures. The explosion of access to information and education means that people are more informed about mental health disorders as can be seen by the large number of support provided to the three young adults. Though Ben and Amber both acknowledge that their health is abnormal, they choose to seek the help of medical professionals to help them in their sick role. Josh, however, refuses to allow medical intervention despite understanding what schizophrenia is. He seems to think that his sick role gives him the right to smoke marijuana to alleviate his symptoms though they actually cause him to experience more paranoia.
The usefulness of illness narratives are part of a healing process. Just as important as medication, narratives can help to improve an illness if utilized. In Josh’s case, his refusal to meet with medical professionals may actually hinder his healing due to the lack of illness narrative. According to lecture 2, illness narrative can help tellers by providing therapeutic meaning and understanding of their illness, which leads to a sense of empowerment. For listeners who have a similar illness, it provides a sense that they are not alone in their suffering, and encourages them to share their own experience. The teller may also provide an inspirational role model to the listener on how to live with their illness, adding to the therapeutic value of narratives.